When It Comes To Turns, Danica Is A Leftist

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 10 2011

Danica Patrick is at the Texas Motor Speedway quad-oval this weekend and darn glad to be there. (Photos courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Fort Worth, Texas – Danica Patrick has made it no secret that she digs the ovals, meaning the “exhibition” format for Saturday night’s inaugural Firestone Twin 275s at Texas Motor Speedway could play right into her wheelhouse.

A TMS open-wheel record 30 entries began practicing Friday afternoon for Saturday night’s pair of 114-lappers around the 1.5-mile quadoval that has produced some of the IZOD IndyCar Series’ most spectacular racing. The field for Race 1 was to be determined Friday afternoon at 3:45 p.m. (CDT) by traditional qualifying, with the grid for the second race to be filled via a blind draw during a one-hour intermission on Saturday.

For Patrick, it’s all part of a “high-speed chess match” she believes defines the IndyCar Series.

“I was just saying last night that I think that this racing is where we look the most amazing,” Patrick said during a news conference at the track’s Samsung mobile Media Center. “We are fast, we run in a pack, there’s a lot of passing. And I just think that this is the most exciting racing for the fans. So I’m glad to be back.”

Patrick, of Andretti Autosport, is working on a streak of four consecutive top-10 finishes at TMS, highlighted by a track-best second-place run to Ryan Briscoe of Team Penske in

Danica Patrick took practice laps at Texas on Friday.

last June’s Firestone 550k. This doubleheader format was announced last summer by Randy Bernard, INDYCAR’s chief executive officer, and Eddie Gossage, the president of TMS and widely viewed as the series’ top promoter.

“Yeah, it’s much more appropriate for Texas, I suppose, with Eddie Gossage,” said Patrick, driver of the No. 7 Team GoDaddy Dallara/Honda. “It’s much more exhibition style. And I say that because the second race is non-qualifying. So it’s not about how fast you are and then how far up you can finish. The first one’s on qualifying, the second one’s random draw.

“This is kind of weird to be doing during the season, but I think it’s great because there’s a lot of media attention. There’s a lot of curiosity on how it’s going to play-out and I think that second race is going to be pretty interesting. It’s good. It’s good for our series, it’s good for the sport and I saw something on the Internet that this used to be a very common thing, to do a doubleheader. It’s all appropriate, right, in the 100th anniversary of the Indy 500 that we go back to some old-style rules.”

The twinbill format for open-wheel racing dates to July 1967 at Mosport, Ontario, Canada, the first of 13 such events run under sanction of the U.S. Auto Club through September 1974. Four more doubleheaders were conducted under sanction of the Championship Auto Racing Teams between April 1979 and June 1981. A single driver swept both races 10 times using rules that saw the grid for the second race determined by finishing order in the first in all 17 events.

Each race-winner here will receive 25 points through five points for the 25th-place and

Ryan Briscoe can win his second straight – and third straight - races at Texas this weekend.

subsequent finishers, basically half-points of a single event.

Briscoe said Wednesday he expected both races to be run as all-out sprints, with limited pit stops and track position playing huge roles in the outcomes.

“Promotions kind of like this – I guess this could be called a promotion – I think these are the things that we need to get people excited to watch races beyond the Indy 500,” said Patrick, who finished 10th at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 29. “And like I said, these oval races are where it’s at. The racing is really competitive and it’s really exciting to watch. And it’s pretty exciting to drive, too. Sometimes you get out of the car and think, ‘Wow, it’s crazy.’

“You are not lifting, you’re keeping your foot in it. When somebody comes across the front of the car and takes the wind away from you or pinches you or turns down on you, those are things that get you upset because it’s all about momentum in these races and it’s all about keeping your foot in the throttle because if you lift you usually go backwards. So it’s about having respect for each other out there, too, especially when it gets crazy and there’s a huge pack of cars and everybody’s moving all over.

“It is important and it’s the right thing to do to remember what’s going on out there and we are going 220 mph and things can happen and what goes around comes around.”

Patrick stood 14th on the speed chart following Friday afternoon’s opening 75-minute

Still no definite word on where Danica Patrick will be next season.

practice after a hot lap of 213.054 mph. Championship leader Will Power, a road-racing ace still seeking his first IndyCar oval-track victory, topped the session at 214.977 mph in his No. 12 Verizon Dallara/Honda fielded by Team Penske. Teammate Briscoe was second-fast at 214.836 mph in the No. 6 Guidepoint Systems Dallara/Honda.

Alex Lloyd was third-fastest at 214.326 mph in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Dallara/Honda fielded by Dale Coyne Racing. Rookie JR Hildebrand, the 2011 Indy 500 runnerup, stood fourth after lapping at 214.309 mph in the No. 4 National Guard Dallara/Honda fielded by Panther Racing. Rounding out the top five was three-time/reigning series champion Dario Franchitti with a best lap of 214.025 mph in the No. 10 Huggies Dallara/Honda fielded by Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

A half-hour practice set for 6:45 p.m. will close on-track activity and preparations for what will be the 22nd IndyCar Series race contested at “The Great American Speedway!”

Patrick is mired in 15th in points after five events, with a season-best finish of seventh on the Streets of Long Beach. The first four races of the 2011 schedule were run on either street or natural-terrain road-courses, which Patrick admitted hardly have been her strong suit since joining the IndyCar Series in 2005.

“Yeah, for me, I can’t wait until those first four (races) are over,” Patrick said. “It’s not that I can’t do well – I mean, Barber (Motorsports Park) was actually probably one of my better races (finished 17th) and I was least excited to go there. So I can have good weekends but it’s frustrating. I just don’t qualify the car well so it makes for a long, long race and having to come from far back.

“So yeah, I think this is our great racing. This is IndyCar at its best. I think this is how we started and this is the series that prevailed and we were oval racing. And it’s exciting.

I was disappointed to see that Motegi is not an oval anymore. Unbelievably, in 2011 we have 10 road-courses and seven ovals. A disappointing schedule, but it’s what the schedule is.”

Officials from INDYCAR, the series’ sanctioning body, announced last week that the

Dale Earnhardt Jr. says that Danica Patrick's future with his NASCAR team is undecided. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images)

Sept. 18 race at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan would be contested on the track’s 2.98-mile road-course. Motegi’s 1.5-mile oval – site of Patrick’s only IndyCar victory to-date on April 20, 2008 – was damaged by the earthquake that struck the island nation in March.

Ironically, when Friday’s late-morning news conference ended Patrick dutifully filmed a promo spot for the Motegi race with a Japanese crew. “I’m sure that they (INDYCAR officials) didn’t want to go race on the road-course at Motegi. I’m sure there’s circumstances beyond their control,” said Patrick, adding she will not lack for motivation for the remainder of what could be her final IndyCar season.

Patrick, who is in the walk year of her contract with team-owner Michael Andretti, continues to consider a fulltime NASCAR Nationwide Series ride with JR Motorsports beginning in 2012. That team is owned by NASCAR superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“We haven’t really talked about it,” Junior said during his weekly hauler chat at Pocono International Raceway Friday afternoon. “We’re waiting on Danica to make her decision and we can start to plan what we want to do. It would be a lot of fun to try to go fulltime. We definitely would like to be part of that opportunity. We’ll just have to see how it goes.”

Danica, meanwhile, will see how it goes – times two – Saturday night in Cowtown.

“I’m a racer and I’m competitive and I get to each race weekend and I want to win more than ever,” Patrick said. “And that competitive nature in me comes out every single weekend whenever I get in a car. They’re all very important when you’re at the race.”

Indy-style racing doubleheaders

U.S. Auto Club sanction

July 1, 1967: Mosport, Canada (road-course _ Bobby Unser and Bobby Unser)

Aug. 6, 1967: St. Jovite, Canada (road-course _ Mario Andretti and Mario Andretti)

June 15, 1968: Mosport, Canada (road-course _ Dan Gurney and Dan Gurney)

July 21, 1968: Indianapolis Raceway Park (road-course _ Al Unser and Al Unser)

July 28, 1968: Langhorne, Pa. (Al Unser and Al Unser)

Aug. 4, 1968: St. Jovite, Canada (road-course _ Mario Andretti and Mario Andretti)

July 27, 1969: indianapolis Raceway Park (road-course _ Dan Gurney and Peter Revson)

Sept. 14, 1969: Brainerd, Minn. (road-course _ Gordon Johncock and Dan Gurney)

Oct. 19, 1969: Kent, Wash. (road-course _ Mario Andretti and Al Unser)

Feb. 28, 1971: Rafaela, Argentina (Al Unser and Al Unser)

April 15, 1973: Trenton, N.J. (A.J. Foyt Jr. and Mario Andretti)

Sept. 16, 1973: Michigan International Speedway (Billy Vukovich and Johnny Rutherford)

Sept. 22, 1974: Trenton, N.J. (A.J. Foyt Jr. and Bobby Unser)

Championship Auto Racing Teams sanction

April 22, 1979: Atlanta Motor Speedway (Johnny Rutherford and Johnny Rutherford)

June 10, 1979: Trenton, N.J. (Bobby Unser and Bobby Unser)

July 15, 1979: Michigan International Speedway (Gordon Johncock and Bobby Unser)

June 28, 1981: Atlanta Motor Speedway (Rick Mears and Rick Mears)

(Editor’s note: Twin races were held as qualifying events for the Ontario 500-milers of 1973, 1974 and 1975, but they employed odd-and-even qualifiers rather than all contestants together in the same races.)

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 10 2011
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